Science has never been an easy job, but in the tradition of great scientists, we should keep fighting for it.
The current climate of uncertainty, oppression, and fear-mongering that extends far beyond the realm of science requires a response built upon courage and bravery. Neuroscientists do not yet know which specific pathways promote courage and bravery, but two brain areas that have already been linked to this function are the prefrontal cortex (implicated in decision-making) and the amygdala (closely associated with the fear response).
The time to overcome our fears and decide to stand up is now.
The history of science is peppered with examples of bravery. One of the most famous examples is Galileo Galilei, who fought against the church in the first half of the 17th century. In fact, as a recent PLOS post mentions, many enlightened scientists stood up against ignorance during the 17th and 18th century. One might now wonder whether we have reverted back to those times of ignorance. In either case, the time has come for a new generation of scientists to be brave and courageous. The new United States administration is aiming to cut funding for environmental research and is denying climate change. More and more kids in the United States are being taught creationism, while evolutionary theory is being neglected. With these cuts and teaching programs, a whole generation has lost their scientific pasts and future at once. After all these cuts and losses, all that we can do, all that we have left to do, and all that we HAVE to do, is to stand up for the present. Thankfully, scientists across the globe are organizing themselves – in response to a single tweet, the “March for Science” was born.
Scientists have busy schedules – there are grants and papers to be written, students to be overseen, and actual research to be done. Moreover, young researchers especially are living on a tight budget. Time and money issues prevent many from becoming actively involved in the fight for science. While I applaud the ones who have decided to run for office, realistically speaking, only few scientists can afford to do so. However, with the countless participating cities across the US and the entire world, the March for Science will be a perfect opportunity for scientists from all over the world to show their support and to highlight the importance of research, without having to sacrifice more than half a Saturday.
Building bridges instead of walls
2016 has been a pretty rough year all around, and the election results in the United Kingdom and the United States have served to illustrate the divide within these countries. And yet, those results would not have been possible without so many people voting the way they did. Of course it is easy to become frustrated when faced with so much hostility and misunderstanding, but the job of the science supporters now is not to simply be louder than the opposition. Instead of a screaming match we should try to highlight why science is so important – and what science has already done for our every-day life, in order to take away the perceived secrecy and arrogance.
Instead of simply sneering derisively at “the other half” and congratulating ourselves for standing up, we should try to look for common ground and start a conversation from there. There is a whole science behind science communication – and there has never been a better time to harness all that we have learned and use it to our advantage.
There are so many problems for young researchers to be worried about with regard to their professional futures. Scarce funding, limited tenure-track positions, and the dogma of the impact factor are only the beginning of the problems within science. And yet, I’d happily go back to arguing about the impact factor instead of fearing for the future of the scientific endeavor as a whole.
In particular, young researchers should harness the momentum and make sure that there is a future for their research – be it to protect the environment, find new cures, or find new habitable planets. It is our turn now to stop being afraid and decide to march – I’ll see you on April 22!
Featured image is in the public domain.
Domenech P and Koechlin E. Executive control and decision-making in the prefrontal cortex. 2015. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences.
Mendez-Bertolo et al. A fast pathway for fear in human anygdala. 2016. Nature Neuroscience.
Wessel L. From a tweet, a March for Science is born. 20117. Science.
Yong E. Professor Smith Goes to Washington. 2017. The Atlantic.